History of the Order of Orange-Nassau

The Order of Orange-Nassau was founded in 1892. But its history goes back to 1841 and the Order of the Oak Crown.

King Willem II wished to reward more people for service to the community than was possible at that time. On the other hand, he did not wish to undermine the special status of the Order of the Lion of the Netherlands. Willem II was not only King of the Netherlands, he was also Grand Duke of Luxembourg. So in 1841 he established the Order of the Oak Crown in Luxembourg, which he could use to honour Dutch citizens as well. 

The advantage for the King was that initially the Dutch government could not influence appointments to the Order of the Oak Crown. But the government did take advantage of the Order by submitting nominations to the King.

Creation of the Order of Orange-Nassau

When King Willem III died in 1890, his only surviving child was his daughter Wilhelmina, who became Queen of the Netherlands. But under an ancient law she was not permitted to become Grand Duchess of Luxembourg. This meant that the Order of the Oak Crown could no longer be conferred on Dutch citizens. The Order of Orange-Nassau was created on 4 April 1892 so that the government could continue to recognise the services of the Dutch.

The new Order recognised services to the Netherlands that were outstanding but not exceptional, in contrast to the Order of the Lion of the Netherlands. The Order of Orange-Nassau had five classes of knights as well as gold, silver and bronze medals of honour. This enabled the government to award royal decorations to people from all walks of life.


During the twentieth century a kind of automatic honours system came into being for people who had held certain posts for a long time. As this was never the intention, the government put an end to this practice in 1994 by amending the relevant legislation. Since then, honours have been conferred only in cases of outstanding service to the community. 

The government also abolished the three medals of honour and introduced a sixth class, Member of the Order of Orange-Nassau. Most of those nominated for a royal decoration – generally people who have worked for many years as volunteers – are appointed Members of the Order.